I am very pleased and honored to join you here today to discuss space security in such a beautiful location in one of the most dynamic and important regions in the world. I’d like to thank our hosts in the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for organizing such an important and timely conference.
What is “space security?”
Before I discuss in depth the topic of this speech “transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) and how they help strengthen the security and stability of the space environment”, I’d like to first talk briefly about what “space security and stability” means.
Today, space systems are vital to the daily life and workings of every nation around the world and their peoples. Space systems enhance our national security, foreign policy, and global economic interests; they expand scientific knowledge; and they improve life on the ground through weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and city planning. Yet for all that we depend on it, we face a number of challenges in the space arena, including orbital congestion, situational awareness, and collision avoidance, all of which require our focused attention and concerted efforts to address as they directly affect the security and stability of space.
Each of the nations here likely has a different interpretation of what “space security” means based principally upon each respective country’s national interests. Based on the U.S. National Space Policy and other Presidential guidance, as well as our obligations under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and other international law, we in the United States associate “security” as it relates to space with the pursuit of those activities that ensure the sustainability, stability, and free access to, and use of, outer space in support of a nation’s vital interests. This interpretation is supported by long-standing principles of space law and including:
Unless the international community adopts pragmatic and constructive measures in the near-term to avoid collisions and curb irresponsible behavior, the space environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to both human and robotic spaceflight. The United States and many nations around the world are pursuing a variety of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to address these challenges and to strengthen long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security in space.
What are TCBMs?
Today, the international community increasingly recognizes the usefulness of transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs, as a way to promote openness and to reduce tensions between nations, particularly in areas where misperceptions may exist. Additionally, while declarations of national intentions or pledges of responsible behavior in the future are certainly desirable, they may not be enough to reduce suspicions. To overcome mistrust requires building confidence between nations, which can only be achieved with transparency, openness, and predictability through such things as information-sharing and personal contact.
Confidence-building measures have been used successfully in bilateral, regional, and multilateral setting since the Cold War. For example, during the Cold War measures such as the “hot-line” agreement, data exchanges, and reciprocal visits between the United States and the Soviet Union helped ease tensions and reduce the risk of accidents. The United Nations and the international community have formally recognized the contributions of TCBMs to peace, security, and disarmament since the 1970s. The successful history of TCBMs in other areas, such as strategic nuclear and conventional forces, suggests that TCBMs can also make an important contribution in the space field.
TCBMS for Outer Space
Activities in space are often the source of uncertainty, suspicions, and mistrust, in part due to the frequently classified technologies and systems used by the military and intelligence organizations of spacefaring nations; the inherent difficulty in monitoring space related activities, deployments, and operations; and sometimes in attributing irresponsible behavior. As former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said,
“To avoid conflicts based on misperceptions and mistrust, it is imperative that we promote transparency and other confidence-building measures – in armaments, in threatening technologies, in space and elsewhere.”
Space-related TCBMs enable us to address critical areas such as orbital debris, space situational awareness, and collision avoidance, and through them help to increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors. Broad support for TCBMs also provides a foundation upon which the international community can build.
Ongoing TCBM Efforts
Currently there are a number of on-going efforts to establish multilateral TCBMs—the work of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), the study by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Space TCBMs, and the proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Experts on all three of these efforts have already presented to you today, so I will just touch on them briefly.
While many approaches to ensuring stability in space come from the top down, there is great value in “bottom-up” approaches from experts and satellite operators, such as the work of the Working Group on Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS. This Working Group is a key forum for the international development of “best practices guidelines” for space activities. Many of the best practice guidelines addressed by this working group are integral to our efforts to pursue TCBMs that enhance sustainability in space.
A second multilateral TCBM effort currently being undertaken is the UN GGE study on Outer Space TCBMs, for which I serve as the U.S. expert. Under the able chairmanship of Victor Vasiliev of Russia, the Group of Governmental Experts offers a unique opportunity to advance international consensus on a the range of voluntary and non-legally binding TCBMs in space that have the potential to mitigate the dangers and risks in an increasingly contested and congested space environment. As part of its effort to draw upon as much expertise as possible, the GGE welcomes written recommendations from intergovernmental bodies, industry and private sector, civil society, and other UN Member States not already represented in the group. While the 15 members of the GGE may not reach consensus to endorse all TCBMs proposed by UN Member States and NGOs, I believe the GGE can produce a substantial list of voluntary, pragmatic TCBMs that work to solve concrete problems and enhance the stability and security of the space environment for all spacefaring nations.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial ways to promote responsible behavior in space could be the adoption of "rules of the road." In that vein, the European Union is leading efforts to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, the third multilateral effort. An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space by establishing non-legally binding guidelines that reduce the hazards of accidental and purposeful debris-generating events. It would encourage all spacefaring nations to act responsibly in a space environment that is increasingly congested and contested. It would also address the challenge of collision avoidance by increasing the transparency of operations in space.
TCBMs can also be undertaken regionally, bilaterally, and unilaterally. Through panels, conversations, and tomorrow’s breakout session, this forum can be a great opportunity for creating confidence among nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Next week’s meeting of the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum, although civil in nature, also creates confidence between nations through information-sharing and cooperation on projects. Bilaterally, dialogues between nations on space security issues, the sharing of space policies and budgets, expert visits, military-to-military exchanges, and information exchanges on natural and debris hazards can all be effective TCBMs.
From a national perspective, we in the United States recognize the importance of space situational awareness in order to prevent collisions between satellites and/or other orbiting objects. As a result, we are seeking to improve our ability to share information on space objects with other space-faring nations as well as with industry partners. The United States also provides notifications to other governments and commercial satellite operators of potentially hazardous conjunctions between orbiting objects. To establish two-way information exchanges with foreign satellite operators and to facilitate the urgent transmission of notifications of potential space hazards, we are currently reaching out to space-faring nations and organizations to ensure that our Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, has current contact information for both government and private sector satellite operations centers.
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said earlier this year:
“The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk. […] Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”
The international community is more reliant on space than ever and the long-term sustainability of our space activities is at serious risk. Accidents or irresponsible acts against space systems would not just harm the space environment, but would also disrupt services that the citizens, businesses, and nations around the world depend on.
Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment and protecting it for future generations are in the vital interests of the United States, the members of ASEAN, and the entire global community. To do this, however, we must overcome misperceptions and suspicions by taking a step-by-step approach to building confidence and creating understanding through TCBMs.
Thank you very much.